How do European yakisoba flavors satisfy a Japanese palate?

Cup Noodle is one of Japan’s top instant noodle brands, but it’s pretty popular the world over too. For example, did you know that in Europe, Cup Noodle (or “Cup Noodles” as it’s known there) actually sells a yakisoba variety that’s not available anywhere else? Our Japanese-language reporter Ikuna Kamezawa–who is currently busy testing out Japanese food in Spain–happened to spot them at a local supermarket and just had to try them out.

Altogether she found six different flavors, so she decided to use her distinctively Japanese point of view to compare them. Will they live up to her expectations? Let’s find out!

First off, the makeup of these cups was pretty simple: each one contained a cup with a lid, noodles and toppings, and a sauce packet.

She purchased each one for 1.45 euros, which is about 188 yen or US$1.67.

Ikuna actually saw quite a lot of instant yakisoba on the shelves at the supermarket, some even made by local companies, so she guessed that yakisoba was pretty popular in Europe. Naturally, though, the variety of options wasn’t nearly as wide as in Japan.

She was further surprised that this instant yakisoba came in a tall cup rather than a wide cup. In Japan, instant yakisoba, like UFO Yakisoba and Peyang, usually come in flat containers that are either round or square. Ikuna thought perhaps the change in style was due to the shelf sizes at the supermarket, though she couldn’t say for sure.

The cups did come with the standard water-draining lid, but it got super hot with the hot water and had a tendency to fall off, so Ikuna had to bite the bullet and try to hold it on in order to pour the water out. That gave her an appreciation for the instant noodle companies that really thought through their cup design

After analyzing the containers themselves, Ikuna began her taste test. Just like when she ranked European Cup Noodle flavors, she decided to give each flavor of Cup Noodle a score of one to ten based on how she liked it. So without further ado, let’s see which ones scored the highest!

1. Classic Flavor

Assuming this was the standard among Yakisoba flavors, Ikuna thought it was best to start with this one.

The toppings seemed pretty similar to UFO Yakisoba and included cabbage and…tofu?! That’s pretty unusual for yakisoba in Japan.

The sauce was a jet black, stickier variety.

Still, it was pretty good!!

Each cup yakisoba brand in Japan has its own “super thick sauce” version, and this felt like one of those. It was good enough that Ikuna thought it would get a seal of approval from any Japanese person. The only thing Ikuna had reservations about was the fact that the sauce was pretty sweet, though it did have a little spice to it. By the way, the pieces of toppings she’d thought were tofu were actually chicken.

Total score: 7/10.

2. Peking Duck

Ikuna had started with the reassuring “Classic” flavor, so now she felt she had the courage to try the most intimidating flavor: Peking Duck.

The noodles came with two kinds of mystery meat, and looking at the ingredients, duck meat was one of the components, along with some chicken fat for good measure.

Right away, this yakisoba smelled strongly of Chinese food.

…And Ikuna did not like it.

Not that the flavor was bad, per se, because it did sort of taste like Peking Duck sauce. But Ikuna doesn’t particularly like the flavor of Peking Duck sauce, and this yakisoba–which is not even a little bit like yakisoba–did not suit her palate at all.

Total score: 2/10.

3. Yakitori Chicken

The yakitori, or grilled chicken, variety actually sounded pretty tasty so Ikuna decided to use this one to cleanse her palate.

It also had some kind of white mystery meat, cut into cubes. Possibly chicken? Who could say?

Surprisingly, it really did taste like yakitori!

The flavor was really close to the sauce used when grilling chicken in Japan, but it also tasted a little bit like Thai food, like grilled chicken she ate once at a food stall in Thailand. Either way, it definitely tasted like grilled chicken!

The meat was actually pretty firm, and the vegetables quite crunchy. Ikuna was impressed by how much individual personality each cup had.

Total score: 6/10.

4. Teriyaki

Ikuna suspected differentiating between the Yakitori flavor and the Teriyaki flavor would be quite difficult, so she decided to try this one right after the yakitori one.

The Teriyaki flavor came with no meat, but it did have shiitake mushrooms.

It turned out to be totally different from the Yakitori flavor!

It had a really sharp ginger flavor to it, like the popular Japanese dish, ginger pork. It was tasty! Ikuna personally really liked it. Her only concern was that she wasn’t sure if that could really be called “teriyaki” or not.

Total score: 7/10.

5. Sukiyaki Beef

Ikuna also wondered whether this one would stand out from the others, so she picked it to try next.

It contained lots of beef-like meat pieces, which is something you don’t see very often in Japanese cup noodles.

When she looked closely, Ikuna even saw bok choy in there! What dedication to the craft!

Though whether or not the flavor of this cup yakisoba was anything like sukiyaki was debatable, Ikuna had to admit it had a very beefy flavor. The thing that most impressed her was that the Yakitori, Teriyaki, and Sukiyaki flavors all tasted completely different, despite all those dishes using many of the same ingredients in Japan. She was also impressed that Europeans would faithfully distinguish between those flavors.

Total score: 5/10.

6. Chili

Ikuna had a slightly bad feeling about the “Chili” Cup Noodle Soba.

She worried that all of those little red pieces were habanero peppers and that she was going to die while eating this. However…

It was good! Really good!

It was really pleasantly spicy while maintaining the integrity of the classic yakisoba base. It had a good kick, the kind that sits on your tongue for a bit like the spicy Korean-style Shin Ramen, and Ikuna liked it even better than Peyang’s Extra Spicy Yakisoba. For Ikuna, who had been having a hard time finding spicy food in Europe, this was a precious commodity.

Total score: 8/10.

In conclusion, the final rankings are as follows:

1. Chili – 8 points
2. Classic – 7 points
     Yakitori – 7 points 
4. Teriyaki – 6 points
5. Sukiyaki – 5 points
6. Peking Duck – 2 points

In the end, though some flavors had Ikuna scratching her head a bit, she’s glad she tried them. By the way, European supermarkets also sell the same flavors in bag form, though they no longer become Cup Noodle at that point, so if you find yourself wanting a taste of Japan in Europe, definitely give them a taste yourself!

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